by Adriana Albi Davies, Ph.D.
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This is an important period if only to mark the impact of the rise of Fascism and how it played out as Italy declared war on Canada (June 10, 1940) and Italians, even some born in the country, became enemy aliens. As has been noted by historians, immigrants retained very close ties with the homeland and were aware of the rise to power of Mussolini. The influence of the Fascist government was felt through the consular agents, vice consuls or honorary consuls who were assigned to Italian communities.
Fascist influence was felt, as well, through the priests who came out from Italy to
serve immigrants. It is interesting that while Edmonton and Calgary did not have an Italian church at the time, the community
of Venice did ¹ In 1924, they began to build Il Redentore Church (Holy Redeemer) with the site being contributed by
John and Angelo
Biollo, and lumber and labour contributed by the community and prepared in the Biollo sawmill. Father Fabbris came from Italy to be the Pastor and established the Fascio de Venice. The Hylo-Venice history book also mentions that in November 1925 officials from the Fascist headquarters in Calgary came to Venice and the party flag was blessed and all of the Italians became members. Another local society was the
Duca d'Abruzzi Society, which also promoted colonization.
Mrs. Doyle mentions that she taught Italian language classes with materials from Italy.
Mr. Tony Bonifacio
gives more detail in his unpublished history of the Venice settlement. He notes that
Antonio Rebaudengo founded the Fascist Party in Calgary and, knowing of the Venice settlement from
Rudolph Michetti, he went to Venice. With Mr. Michetti,
Efisio Manca and
Benedetto Coli, they formed the Fascist Party in Venice. He states that all the Italians in the community got their memberships and were proud of this and Mr. Rebaudengo returned to Calgary.
He further states that it was, in reality, a social club with members paying
annual fees and getting together two or three times a year for picnics. He states: "Of course, they idolized Mussolini, and they
hoped that he would improve the way of life in Italy for the relatives, and friends that they had left behind years gone by."
Mr. Butti, in an oral history interview conducted in August/September, 1983, talked about the Fascists in Edmonton. He mentions
Pietro Colbertaldo, a watchmaker on Jasper Avenue, who sent to Italy for a watchmaker and
Vittorio Losa came out. Colbertaldo wanted to start a consular agency and went to Italy for training, likely in 1937; he put Mr. Losa in charge of watch repair. Thus, there was a very direct connection with Italy via the consular agents and the priests. On his return, he became Vice-Consul in Winnipeg
for western Canada and was one of the people arrested in 1940.
With the declaration of war by Italy on Canada, Mr. Butti mentions that he was investigated because he was President of the Italian Society in Edmonton. He had assumed that, because he was under 21 that he had become a Canadian citizen when his Father did in the early 1920s. The RCMP told him that this was not so and he was told that he could not leave town. He pointed out to them that his work as an electrician required him to travel around the Province and, eventually, they turned a blind eye and let him get on with his business. He talks about individuals wearing black shirts and also the Fascist rosette on their lapels. In Venice, this was felt even more strongly. Mr. Bonifacio notes:
With Italy becoming allied with Germany the ghost of the Fascist in Venice is resurrected, and opens up a can of worms. Someone reported to the R.C.M.P. in Lac La Biche that the party had existed in Venice, and that led to an investigation by the police. Although the party had ceased to exist for many years, the police located records that Mr. Coli in Hylo still had and some of the names led to the arrest of
O.J. Biollo first. He was taken to Calgary and sent to a concentration camp in Kananaskis. A short time later Rudolph Michetti, Augusto Marini, Efisio Manca, and Joe Michetti were arrested and taken to Edmonton, and after a hearing the three were sent home only Rudolph was sent to Kananaskis to keep O.J. Biollo company. A short time later
they were transferred to a camp in Petawawa Ontario. At this camp they were among German and Italian prisoners of war. Mr. Biollo suffered from severe bronchitis all his life so he was assigned to light duty in the compound, but Rudolph along with other prisoners were taken daily with trucks escorted by armed guards to the forest to cut down
trees that were to be used as mine props. ²
He notes that Mr. Biollo served 10 months and Mr. Michetti served almost two years and mentions that Italians naturalized before 1922 were exempt. The RCMP in Edmonton seemed to be more understanding. This was not the case in other communities and one member of the Venice colony mentions that his very pregnant Mother had to go in to report to the RCMP causing some hardship.
The internment episode aside, during the War, the economy of Edmonton boomed and job opportunities for the population were good. Mr. Butti mentions specifically the building of the Alaska Highway. This had some other positive benefits in that, at the end of the War, the construction equipment was sold off. Among the purchasers were the Nigro-Anselmo partners who built New West Construction into a significant player in Alberta's post war economy. The company was to become the first employment opportunity for many new immigrants.